LEON co-founder and CEO John Vincent took the time a week after launch, to give an open and detailed update on Feed NHS in a letter to all LEON club members.

Hello to the LEON club and to everybody that follows us on social.

I wanted to give you an update, during a very busy week, about where we are with FeedNHS to which many of you have already donated. It is not short, but it is intended to provide a good amount of detail about what’s what.

For background, we began two weeks ago with a 50% discount for NHS teams, an increase from our longstanding 15% discount, and we were pleased when other restaurants followed.

When those chains were closed, we found that many NHS teams were relying on us for food.

The scale of the problem became evident when we received many messages from doctors and nurses and their families saying that they were, as well as not sleeping, finding it difficult to eat well.

What has become increasingly apparent is that, partly because of the long continuous hours that they have to work, and partly because they need to keep their protective gear on, NHS teams in critical care wards need hot food delivered to them straight to the wards in single portions like those we typically make at LEON.

We were responding as best we could to the needs of our local NHS Trusts (each Trust typically manages a handful of hospitals and each Trust is pretty much its own separate entity), but then I received a call from the very handsome (ask my wife, no actually ask me too) Damian Lewis (Billions, Homeland and I guess the odd school play) . He and his wife, Helen McCrory, and fellow talented actor (Peaky Blinders and much more), rang me to say that they had spoken to their friends in NHS hospitals who had said what they badly needed was food for the critical care teams. And that the people they spoke to expressed an interest in the food being from LEON. So, Damian and Helen offered to raise some money so we could provide food, at cost. We had already been in close contact (digitally) with Matt Lucas (you don’t need the bracketed info, right?) who was helping us behind the scenes with our work. So, the three of them alongside my wife Katie Derham set about launching FeedNHS. Two days later, which was last Friday, Damian and Helen launched the project on Good Morning Britain and Matt on Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 show.

Our objective is single minded: to raise money to make it easier, or possible even, for doctors and nurses on the frontline to eat good food. For their own wellbeing and for the good of those they are treating.

Whilst LEON is one of the companies that can provide food, there are others. And by no means is LEON the only company stepping up to help. There are individual chefs across the country, food wholesalers and manufacturers, and groups of larger catering companies who are now coming together under the leadership of people like Nigel Harris from Absolute Food, and Alastair Storey from Baxter Storey. A group of restaurant brands have also begun to work together to coordinate the provision of food in London, led by Brandon Stephens from Tortilla. We have shared their details in previous posts, but they include Wasabi and Dishoom. In addition, Deliveroo, for as long as they can, have agreed to provide free delivery where the food is provided by LEON or other high street brands. This has been funded by separate donors. And then LEON is serving specific hospitals.

Damian, Helen, Matt, Katie and I are focussed on fundraising. To date we have raised more than £600,000. If you visit FeedNHS.com you will see a link to the JustGiving page that Damian and Helen and Matt created to accept money.

For those of you who are familiar with fundraising, the technicalities are quite important, and I know a lot more about this than I knew a week ago. Some of you have, quite rightly, been curious to know how it all works. Some of you might be fascinated by the next few paragraphs, others not so much…and you can skip to the bit about a baked potato.

Rather than the money coming to LEON, we wanted to ensure that the money is accessible to each hospital Trust and that they can choose whatever provider of food they want. (We at LEON are focusing on UCLH and Imperial Trusts to begin with.)

Equally, in order to qualify for Gift Aid, and to make the flow of funds possible, the JustGiving page needs to be directly linked to one single charity. UCLH Hospital Trust Charity have kindly agreed to be that charity.

In order that we can provide meals to other Trusts expediently, UCLH have agreed to help facilitate payments from the fundraising for meals to hospitals other than their own. I would like to thank everybody at UCLH for their help with this.

LEON itself has so far this week provided 3000 meals and will be likely ramping up to a steady state of 6000 meals a day.

LEON and others involved are providing food at cost, and for the whole duration of this crisis any profits that Leon makes from our core commercial operations will be spent on feeding NHS teams.

There are also two or three other incredible individuals who we have been working with and alongside, who do not want to be named and who have provided money and are driving their own activities with the help of big catering companies. I am sure your generosity will one day be recognised, even though you are humbly choosing not to be named.

Nigel Harris from Absolute Food has been asked by an individual donor to send grocery boxes to doctors’ houses, whether working hard or indeed when they are falling ill themselves.

So, this is not only fast moving but it is becoming increasingly necessary to coordinate with others involved without anything being slowed down as a result. We are holding daily video calls to coordinate our activities.

We would also like to congratulate the work of Meals for the NHS who have raised money as well, and we are coordinating with them too.

The need is increasing and will be ongoing. We continue to be contacted all the time by people who ask us to support, across the country and including the new Nightingale Hospital in Excel that is being speedily created.

If you are a doctor or someone who works in an administrative team in a  hospital, and you need food, please do contact us at hello@feednhs.com

I would like to thank the amazing work of Damian, Helen, Matt and my wife Katie, not just for creating and promoting FeedNHS but also for being deep in the minutiae of how this is managed and organised. They are on constant calls with me and each other, and our WhatsApp group is constantly pinging with activities and news almost 24 hours a day.

The best news of the day? (Apart from the messages from the teams we have fed today) This evening Matt Lucas launches his Baked Potato song, the funds from which will be dedicated to FeedNHS. Thank you, Matt, you are a superstar. No, really, an actual one.

We would also like to hear from you if you’re one of the people feeding NHS teams and you don’t have the wherewithal or time to share on social media what you are up to.

We would love to be able to share both ways what we are all learning and what is working well. Here’s an example: on Monday we sent our food in giant Deliveroo bags to St Mary’s. The lesson – put a mix of food in each bag because each bag goes to each Ward. So, one Ward got only chilli con carne, another only Lentil Masala, another only Black Bean etc.

We will all learn a lot. The key thing is that we learn fast.

Thank you for all your messages of support on social and elsewhere. We read them all, and it keeps our LEON teams going knowing we have you behind us.

I would like to thank Vita Mojo for providing huge tech support to us, James Robins at Mustard Foods for his support, and for keeping his operation going in tough circumstances. And also, our greengrocers and logistics partner Fresh Direct. Also, Kirsty Saddler who is leading all of this at LEON. And my Leon teams – in particular the LEON people working in our restaurants to make the food. You could easily have chosen to be at home in the government Furlough scheme and the fact that you have come to work instead, will be remembered by me and others.

To some degree, I have become one of the spokespeople for this diverse project, but I would like to recognise the fact that there are many others now who are doing their own thing in their own way without the spotlight being on them. We thank you.

Each is committed to helping our doctors and nurses to stay well and to work as effectively as they can.

We do not know, do we, how long this will last. No organisation can fund this effort indefinitely. We are hoping to raise enough money and deploy enough catering resource to support the NHS teams for the next six weeks, but the time period and geographical need may be greater than we can cope with. At the moment London and some satellite towns outside London are bearing the brunt but the problems are spreading and growing nationally.

I spoke to one doctor last night who shared with me her deep sadness about the ‘tragedy’ unfolding, but also shared with me the power of the love and kindness that she is witnessing and being shown. Thank you so much to all of the doctors and nurses, and all who support them – you are showing the best of human spirit.

John